If you are a heart patient, a heart healthy diet and lifestyle are some of the best weapons for you to fight heart disease and live a healthier, longer life. Eating healthy can improve your sleep, concentration and energy levels. Maintaining a healthy body weight and lifestyle reduces your risk of chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Researchers found that almost half of deaths caused by heart diseases, stroke and type 2 diabetes in Americans were potentially attributable to an unhealthy diet. Eating a heart healthy diet is not as difficult as many people think- it all depends on what you choose to eat or choose not to eat.
What are Heart Healthy Foods?
Heart healthy foods, also known as a cardiac diet, a low sodium diet or the DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension), refer to eating in a way that minimizes the impact of your diet on your heart health. The main goal of these diets is to reduce sodium and fat intake.
The key to eating and maintaining a heart healthy diet is to plan for it. First, start with knowing how many calories you should be eating and drinking. Appropriate caloric intake for adult women falls between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day while adult men need about 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day (sedentary individuals within each gender should follow the lower end of the range). My Plate Plan or My Fitness Pal are free resources that help you learn what your personal calorie limit should be and how to eat a balanced diet. My Fitness Pal allows you to look up how many calories are in certain foods (including meals at restaurants) and catalog them each day, enabling you to track your progress.
Second, follow a healthy dietary pattern which emphasizes eating a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products and non-tropical vegetable oils. Third, make a list of recipes to try, snacks to have on hand and meals you can order at restaurants so you are prepared to make your cardiologist proud in the upcoming week.
Grocery Shopping for Heart Healthy Foods
Grocery shopping for heart healthy foods can seem overwhelming, especially if you do not know how to start. Avoiding certain types of foods, understanding labels and checking ingredients are some of your best tools when deciphering what to buy.
Below are some helpful tips on what ingredients to look for. “Daily Value” may be abbreviated as “DV” on some nutrition labels.
- Check nutrition labels for saturated fats; less than 10% of your daily calories should be from saturated fats.
- Choose foods with little to no trans-fats.
- Check nutrition labels for cholesterol; foods with 20% or more of the “Daily Value” of cholesterol are high in cholesterol.
- Check nutrition labels for sodium; foods with 20% or more of the “Daily Value” of sodium are considered high in sodium.
- Check the nutrition labels and ingredients for the amount of sugar in foods. Sugar can come in many different forms with many different names; all of the following are different types of sugar: corn syrup, corn sweetener, fructose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, honey, molasses, raw sugar, invert sugar, syrup, caramel, cane sugar and fruit juice concentrates.
Also, when shopping, try to limit foods high in trans-fats (baked goods, fried foods, etc.), cholesterol (whole milk cheeses, cream etc.), sodium (readymade meals, condiments, hot dogs, breads, rolls, etc.) and added sugar (sodas, sports drinks, candy, ice cream, etc.). Avoid saturated fats and limit greasy foods like pizzas and hamburgers. Although this may seem like a long list of your favorite foods down the drain, you may be surprised at which heart healthy foods you can eat, including dark chocolate!
Making Your Recipes Heart Healthy
Now that you know why eating a heart healthy diet is important and what foods to eat or avoid, let’s move on to some heart healthy recipes. Choosing to eat heart healthy doesn’t mean you need to give up on your favorite recipes. In many cases, recipes can be modified so that they contain lower amounts of fat, sodium and cholesterol. Try taking your favorite recipes and applying the steps below.
- Reduce Your Fat Intake
- Choose to steam, bake, boil or braise your foods rather than deep fry them.
- Use oil over butter or margarine as it contains less saturated fats and trans-fats.
- If you need to use oil, use cooking sprays or apply oil with a pastry brush. This will help you control and lower your oil intake.
- Use low-fat dairy products (skim milk, fat-free milk, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese) instead of cream in sauces or soups.
- Remove the skin and trim the fat from meats.
- Reduce Your Salt Intake
- Avoid canned foods as much as possible as they tend to contain higher amounts of salt.
- Limit your consumption of salty, processed meats like salami or ham.
- Choose breads and cereals with reduced salt.
- Reduce your use of soy sauce and other processed sauces and condiments containing high levels of salt. Check to see if there are reduced-salt or alternative options that have less salt (for example, try coconut-based soy sauce). Even “reduced-salt” or alternative products can contain large amounts of sodium so make sure you are still checking your labels!
- Use iodized salt, when possible.
- Try using less salt than recommended; you may find that you do not notice the difference!
- Preparing and Substituting Suggestions
- Use herbs such as coriander, ginger, garlic and lemongrass to enhance taste and replace flavor of salt and oil.
- Add more stir fry vegetables to your diet. When planning a meal, prepare less carbohydrates and more vegetables.
- The way you prepare and cook vegetables determines how many healthy nutrients you receive from them. To minimize nutrient losses, scrub vegetables instead of peeling them and cook vegetables the quickest way possible with the least amount of water needed. For example, more nutrients will remain in a sweet potato if you microwave it with the skin on instead of peeling and boiling it.
- Use non-stick cookware. Non-stick cookware reduces your need for oil or butter, allowing you to better control the amount of oil you use.
Heart Healthy Recipes and Snacks to Try
If you don’t know where to start, start with some free, heart healthy recipes! These recipes equip you to know what to buy at the store, how to cook them and what your caloric intake will be. The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic are reliable resources that provide free, heart healthy recipes.
- The American Heart Association Healthy Recipes
- The Mayo Clinic Heart Healthy Recipes
- Heart Healthy Recipes for Diabetics
There are also many heart healthy recipes you can find online by searching, “heart healthy recipes” but make sure you use reliable sources or check the ingredients with the tools listed above!
Many people consider snacking to be bad for your health, but the American Heart Association says snacking in moderation with healthy foods, isn’t “bad” for your health. We all have days where we want to snack- the trick is being prepare with heart healthy snacks!
We know eating and maintaining a heart healthy diet can seem overwhelming. Knowing how to read food labels and deciding what to buy at the grocery store are huge steps. Making a list of heart healthy recipes to try, heart healthy snacks to have on hand and meals you can order at a restaurant are key tools in helping you make wise decisions. After all, it is a lot harder to eat bad foods when you only have healthy foods in your fridge.
Thanks for letting us kare for your heart.